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Comic book creator reflects on Air Force Reserve experience

  • Published
  • By Brannen Parrish
  • 931st Air Refueling Group Public Affairs
When writers introduce a character to the comic super hero canon, they usually begin with a common theme. The protagonist possesses some raw talent and power but lacks the competence and confidence to effectively transmit those skills into any great accomplishment. In fact, the greatest enemy of the new character is often a lack of confidence.

Through practice, experience and guidance from a mentor the new character learns to effectively use his powers.

For David Atchison, a comic book writer and former Air Force Reservist, the military provided training, experience and mentoring that refined his creative skills. Before joining the Air Force, Atchison attended college in Georgia. During one of his courses he read a quote from Leonardo da Vinci that summed up his experiences attempting to create, "Art is never finished, only abandoned."

While serving as a public affairs specialist, he learned to balance the tension between creativity and mission accomplishment to overcome the creator's desire to perfect his work.

"What the military taught me was how to get things done expediently," said Atchison who is the Department Coordinator for the Film Creative Affairs Story Department at 20th Century Fox, "A lot of times as a writer you want to be an artist, and artists never finish a work, they abandon it. If you leave it up to artists they will keep fiddling and changing it and altering a work forever in the pursuit of being perfect. What I learned in the military was how to get something done in a timely fashion and then move away from it."

Before working at 20th Century Fox, Atchison teamed up with actress Rosario Dawson and illustrator Tony Shasteen to co-create an independent comic book series called the "Occult Crimes Task Force." The comic book centers on the experiences of a special police task force, charged with patrolling an underground section of Manhattan where residents are allowed to practice magic.

The lead character in the series, Sophia Ortiz, has the likeness of Dawson, who starred in "Sin City", "Clerks II" and "7 Pounds". While pitching the idea to Dawson, Atchison made the point that if the comic were ever turned into a film or movie, they would never have to question who to cast in the lead role.

Dawson accepted the proposal to be the muse for the project with the caveat that she would also co-write the character and story. Since meeting in 2006, the creative team has developed a close friendship.

"David is one of the most tenacious, thoughtful, present and determined people I've ever met. It does his talent well. It's a testament to him and his training that he's so thoroughly excelled in both the military and his professional life," Dawson said. "He never misses an opportunity to engage, indulge and appreciate any and every situation he experiences and he's usually of mind to store it for later use. He makes that apparent in both his writing and his friendship. "

Atchison's military background influences his work on the "O.C.T." He used the model provided by Air Force Instructions and Career Development Courses to educate the reader about the policies the detectives have to follow.

"One of the things I wanted to do so that people could feel like they were really a part of the story was create a manual," Atchison noted. "It was like, 'if you were a police officer, these are all the rules and regulations you would have to follow' and I based the manual off the AFI's and CDC's. It worked out really well because I didn't have to put a lot of exposition in the story and people really liked it."

The storyline and writing from "O.C.T" caught the attention of the Grammy Award-winning hip-hop star, Method Man, formerly of the legendary rap group Wu Tang Clan. The rap star contacted him with a request to produce his own comic and the two created the Method Man comic.

"He's actually really cool and a down-to-earth guy," said Atchison.

Working with giants of the film and music industry has allowed Atchison to gain a better understanding of the complexities of people most fans only see as characters in a movie or artists who create music.

During one conversation with Method Man, Atchison could tell something was wrong and inquired about it.

"He called me up one night and we were going over script corrections he wanted to discuss, and he was kind of off. I could tell something was bothering him so I asked him what was up and he said his son was talking in school and he was like, 'Man, I had to take my X-Box away from my son.'" said Atchison. "It really wigged me out to think about Method Man punishing a child."

The entertainment industry is a combination of creativity, determination and relationship-building. Bad blood can eliminate future opportunities faster than a bad movie, and Atchison's good-natured approach to projects, combined with his passion for storytelling and resilience have contributed to his success. Although many of those qualities are part of his natural personality, he credits the Air Force Reserve experience with teaching him to work with people in a system.

"A lot of what I did in putting the pitch together to talk to Rosario in getting her involved in the "O.C.T" or coming out here and moving out here, that really impressed the film studio because they were shocked that I was able to do all this stuff on my own, but once I got the job they were happy that I was able to get along and play along with people and a lot of that came from my experience with the military," Atchison said.

Atchison said his determination and military experience opened doors for him and was a major reason his boss, Ted, Dodd, Senior Vice President of Creative Affairs at 20th Century Fox, hired him.

At 20th Century Fox, Atchison generates a comic book and popular culture report to inform Fox executives about potential film projects. He pours through comic books and video games looking for ideas that translate into film projects.

Though he is nearly five years removed from military life and culture, he continues to see similarities in Hollywood and military culture.

"The prop people and set designers really remind me of NCOs and senior NCOs who really make everything come together," Atchison noted. "On a lot, you have these buildings that resemble the Air Force hangars with the massive doors. There are all these tools, stacks of lumber and supplies; it's like the Air Force meets Home Depot."

Atchison enlisted in the Air Force Reserve in 1999 with the 94th Airlift Wing at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga. After basic training he attended the Defense Information School at Fort Meade, Md., where he learned and applied principles of journalism and photography. The DINFOS curriculum combines classroom lectures with practical application.

"Where I think DINFOS beats out a lot of civilian schools and colleges is that the school is really big on practically applying things," said Atchison. "Because of the way they teach you at DINFOS, and the fact that you actually sit down and apply all that stuff because you are actually doing what you learn. At DINFOS everything you learn you apply there on the spot."

When he arrived at the 94th Airlift Wing, he quickly developed a reputation as a creative writer and interesting conversationalist.

"Without question, David could take the most boring and inane topics and make them into fascinating stories," said Courtney Franchio, the former Chief of Public Affairs at the 94th Airlift Wing during Atchison's tenure. "Truthfully, I think my writing improved from reading his work."

According to retired Chief Master Sgt. David Curtis, former superintendent of the 94th AW Public Affairs, the young Airman challenged him as a leader.

"Like with his writing, he was a delight in conversation. He always shed a different perspective on a subject. We had somewhat of a generation gap, but he helped me see his point of view many times, and I think better understand the younger Airmen that I supervised," Curtis said. "I remember that he could make me laugh with his eloquently told stories. He had a knack for describing things and adding in little nuances and details that were typical for a great story teller."

Writing is an art that takes time to master. Even the incredibly gifted wordsmith must sharpen those talents through revisions and corrections. Balancing the writer's gift with the need for structure can mean the difference between a future star whose writing transcends its place in the universe, and a black hole that takes everything into itself providing nothing in return.

When Atchison talks about his experience at the 94th Airlift Wing, a common theme arises - family. He credits his superiors and colleagues with encouraging him to write and building his confidence.

"A lot of times when you are young, you don't have anyone telling you that you are a good writer and so you don't want to write at much," said Atchison. "I got a lot of really good encouragement about writing at Dobbins. It was really like a family in that office. Sometimes you have the best memories with your family. We all spent time in the dog house but you always knew they loved you like you were family."

One experience that profoundly impacted his confidence as a writer involved an annual visit from the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African American flying unit in the U.S. military. In his research, he noticed previous articles focused on the visit by the surviving members and their experiences with racism during World War II and throughout their careers.

Recognizing the preponderance of articles about the pilots' experiences overcoming the racism, Atchison chose to focus on their actual experiences flying.

"It was one of those annual stories that had always been written as a play-by-play about the visit, and I was tasked to write it," said Atchison. "Instead, I wrote the lead from a first-person perspective of what it was like to sit in the seat and what it was like to be in that position and do it because the Tuskegee Airmen weren't over there fighting just for black people; they were fighting for all Americans. A lot of people told me they really liked the story and it encouraged me to take risks with my writing."

While serving at with the 94th AW, he began preparing scripts for his primary passion - comic books.

"I think people identify with comic book characters. Most characters are every men or there is something about their character or origin than the audience can relate to," he said. "Much like Super heroes, we each have some hidden talent or ability that we'd like to share with the world. We've each felt like an outsider or dealt with incredible loss or stood up for something we believed in when others were against us. Those things are exaggerated in comic books for dramatic effect, but they're based on very real aspects of life that we've all experienced."

He began writing scripts, and submitting them to companies. He started an independent comic book magazine, "Authentic" with colorist and film maker, Chris Walker. The duo premiered their product at the 2004 San Diego Comic-Con.

"I always knew David would be a success in the comic world," said Franchio, who now works at the VA Regional Medical Center in Orlando, Fla. "So much so that when he did his first comic 'Authentic' I had him sign a copy for me. To this day, I have that comic in a Ziploc bag and I know right where it is. It will be worth money one day, but I will never sell it."

After more than six years of service in the Air Force Reserve, Atchison served out his contract and moved to California permanently to focus on his civilian career.

Some of the projects Atchison has worked on include developing the back story for the video game "Singularity", "True Believer" an in-production back-door pilot for NBC/Universal's Sy Fy Channel, on which he serves as writer and co-producer on the production.

Atchison's current comic projects include "Singularity" for Activision Games, "The Warriors" for Paramount Pictures/ Dabel Brothers Pro and "The Ride" for 12 Gauge/ Image Comics. His company is in talks with a production company to option "The O.C.T" for a film or television project.

Though he no longer wears an Air Force uniform, the qualities that characterized him to his military friends continue to impress his friends in the entertainment industry.

"His characterizations are sincere and complex as is his conversation. I'm constantly impressed by his innate and honed ability to listen and share as thoroughly as he does. I'm grateful to know and love David as my friend and partner in crime," said Dawson.